Lawrence A. Babb
Jainism is a South Asian religion that emerged into historical view in the first half of the first millennium BCE. Along with Buddhism, Jainism is the only other surviving example of ancient India's non-Vedic, heterodox traditions. The largest numbers of Jains are found in five Indian states: Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. Currently the largest overseas Jain populations are found in North America (Canada and the United States) and the United Kingdom. The most distinctive feature of Jainism is undoubtedly its doctrine of karma as an actual physical substance that adheres to souls and prevents their liberation. Another crucial element in Jainism is its powerful commitment to ahimsa, or non-violence. The Jain tradition accepts the varna system (an ancient, idealized social order in which society is divided into four classes: priests, warrior-rulers, agriculturists and merchants, and menial servants). As is the case with castes generally, Jain castes differ from one region to another. The most prominent castes among North Indian Digambaras are the Agravals and the Khandelvals, both renown trading castes.